Last night, "60 Minutes" aired a fascinating segment on the state and fate of truffles (the fungus, not the chocolate). It is widely known that these French and Italian delicacies are extremely expensive; perhaps it should come as no surprise that unscrupulous vendors have set up a dangerous black market for the funghi. Lesley Stahl reports on the covert truffle world, including instances in which people have been beaten with baseball bats and even killed, all in the name of truffles. "It's a world that's rotten to the core," explains truffle hunter Michel Tournayre.
There is a reason truffles are so expensive, though. There are "fewer of them, and of lesser quality, every year," explains Josh Ozersky. Beyond taste, truffles are often something of a status symbol, with extremely rich people willing to shell out thousands of dollars for a large one.
One of the biggest threats -- at least according to many in France and Italy -- is the importation of truffles from China. These truffles are harvested by rake, rather than by dogs. While Italy has made the importation of Chinese truffles illegal, France receives 28 tons of Chinese truffles a year. Truffle connoisseur and French chef, known simply as Bruno, explains that the Chinese truffle is worthless, due to its lack of perfume and taste. Chinese truffles are available in the U.S., often for drastically lower prices -- there is no law in America requiring a location distinction. As show in the clip below, one may think he is eating French truffles, when in fact the truffles are Chinese.
Watch the segment below and read the full transcript at CBS News.